Gaining an insight into the actual day-to-day business of being a vet is a vitally important part of helping you decide for sure if a veterinary career is the right path for you, and many of you will be actively engaged in arranging and attending placements over the course of the year. What follows here is, hopefully, a few helpful bits of advice that will help you to maximise the success of any placements you go on.
This assumes that you have already managed to secure a placement. In which case, nice one! That is the hardest bit so you have done well. Now is the time to really go in and impress the placement/ vets with your enthusiasm, interest and helpfulness. Make sure that when you leave they’re falling over themselves to write you a glowing reference!
1. Confirm – About a week before you are due to start, contact the organiser to confirm all the arrangements (date, time, place and whether there are any bits of information, clothing or equipment that you should bring with you). This shows superb organisational skills and is sure to impress. A polite phone call is probably the safest bet. Otherwise, a short email with a polite follow-up phone call after a few days if you haven’t had a response will be just as effective.
2. Do your homework – Have you looked at the practice/ company’s website? I often think of work experience placements in the same way I would a job interview – I want to impress. One of the best ways of doing this is to be completely familiar with exactly what the practice/ company does and who everyone is. Most places now have very informative websites, including staff profiles. Get familar with who you are likely to see and what the practice does and offers clients, and you will instantly feel more at ease on day one.
3. Read ‘Vet School’ – Have you read ‘Vet School’? This might seem like a blatant plug (which it is) but there is a serious point. I have talked about many of the things you would expect to see whilst on placement, such as vaccinations, and so being familiarised with information like this will not do you any harm at all. As in all things in life, preparation is the key to success so get reading 🙂
1. Leave plenty of time – Arrive on time, or a little early to provide plenty of time to report in at reception. Vet clinics are often at their busiest first thing in the morning so arriving in plenty of time means that your placement organiser can get you initiated and familarised with the practice and facilities before the day goes crazy!
2. Relax – Vets and everyone who works with them are generally a very friendly bunch who enjoy having work-experience students around. We completely appreciate that you will be nervous and so will do our best to ask you questions and just generally ease you into your time with us. However, it is very difficult to remain enthusiastic if you just freeze up, stand quietly in a corner and say or do nothing. You will need to be a little pro-active, be fully prepared and enthusiastic to pitch in and help where requested – in fact, asking how you can help, especially the nurses, will endear you completely to the practice. You will be expected to help with many of the less glamorous aspects of life in a vet practice, and indeed any placement, such as cleaning and showing anything other than willingness to help out will not go down well. My biggest tip is to get on the good side of the nurses. They do an exceptional job and are vital to the work a vet does. If they like you then your time will be blissful! Do not be afraid to ask questions even if you think it is an obvious or silly question. There is no such thing as a silly question (not strictly true but you know what I mean). Vets and nurses love to tell you about what they’re doing so feel free to ask.
3. Watch & Learn – Even if there are times when it seems a bit quieter, or there aren’t any super-exciting operations going on, you will still be able to learn a lot about being a vet from careful observation. How do they talk with clients and other team members? What do they do when they’re not consulting or operating? These are also great times to be able to talk with them about their jobs, training and careers and are likely to offer the greatest insight into what it means to be a vet. Use such opportunities to their fullest as you’ll be amazed at how quickly your time will pass.
4. If in doubt, ask – Hopefully it is needless to say but it is important that you do not do or touch anything (including animals) unless directed or given permission to. This is for your own safety as we deal, on a daily basis, with potentially dangerous substances and drugs, radiation, and animals who are unpredictable, usually scared and therefore at risk of reacting in a manner that is out of character. The last thing we want is for you to get bitten or injured in any way. We also have a lot of very expensive ‘toys’, such as endoscopes, which even the vets can be a little wary of touching for fear of breaking them! If in doubt always ask – you’ll never get into trouble for clarifying but you might if you make assumptions and accidentally break something.
5. Keep a placement journal – Keep some basic notes during your placement. There is no need to write a thesis or to record every single thing you see or hear but a few notes on anything you find interesting will help you make sense of the placement, and provide a useful memory jog when it comes to preparing for your personal statement or interviews.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Again, I am sure this is needless to say but during your placements you will privy to confidential information about clients’ pets and their care. No personal or confidential information should ever leave the practice and please, please think carefully before posting anything relating to your placement on social networks. We’ve all been there – you absent-mindedly post a comment or photo due to being caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment and don’t realise that you might be posting sensitive or confidential info.
6. Have fun! Vets, nurses and everyone who works with them are, on the whole, really nice, down-to-earth, fun loving professionals and enjoy having enthusiastic people around.
1. Thank the placement – This doesn’t have to be expressed in the form of cakes or biscuits, although vets do respond very favourably to such gestures, and a simple letter and/ or card will go down very favourably. It is also smart career planning as you will be far more memorable and considered in a very positive light should you wish to arrange another placement in the future. If you are keen to organise another placement then say so and offer some dates that you are interested in. Popular practices get booked up a long time in advance so think ahead and make your life a little easier.
2. Ask for a reference – Ask for a written reference as soon as your placement is finished, or even near the end of it. Do not do what most people do and wait until you start to write your personal statement or prepare for interviews, which may be many months or even years after your placement. I personally have trouble remembering some of the animals who I have literally just seen so being expected to remember anything even remotely helpful about a work-experience student months after they were in is impossibly optimistic. You want a reference to be specific to you and highlight your unique, personal traits and awesomeness. If the placement organiser can’t remember you, or has since left the practice, then the best you might be able to hope for is a generic, bland “they were here” type of reference, which adds nothing to your overall bid to secure a place at vet school. One student we had recently had the foresight to ask about a reference on their final day of the placement – such a great idea and the result was they walked away with an absolutely glowing reference, completely tailored to him as a person.
Good luck with your placements and, as ever, let us know how you get on and feel free to ask any questions.